A baby born to a mother who drinks alcohol during pregnancy can have many problems. This is called fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). FASDs include:
FASDs happen when a mother drinks alcohol during pregnancy. Like other drugs, alcohol can pass from the mother's blood through the placenta to the fetus. Alcohol is broken down more slowly in the fetus than in an adult. Alcohol levels can stay high in the baby's body. This affects development. No amount of alcohol during pregnancy is safe. There is no safe time to drink in pregnancy. Even light or moderate drinking can affect the growing fetus.
Babies or children with FASDs may have:
The symptoms of FASDs may look like other health conditions or problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Most often, a healthcare provider can diagnose FASDs based on the mother's history and how the baby looks. The healthcare provider will examine the baby to look for changes in the face, eyes, and upper lip. A newborn may show signs of alcohol withdrawal. These include shaking and a high-pitched cry. Older children may have learning tests. The provider will check for development problems. There is no single test to diagnose FASDs.
Newborns may need special care in the newborn intensive care unit (NICU). A newborn may get medicine to help with alcohol withdrawal.
The physical problems seen in FASDs last throughout life. But programs can help improve a child's development. Such programs may focus on improving a child's behavior with early education and tutoring. Programs also help parents with parenting skills. Medicine may help a child's attention problems or hyperactive behaviors. Over time, your child may get help from special education programs and social services.
Complications of FASDs can range from mild learning disabilities to more severe behavior and mental problems. Physical disabilities or birth defects in children with FASD do not get better. Long-term problems may include:
FASDs are 100% preventable. But this means the mother must stop using alcohol before getting pregnant. No amount of alcohol is safe. A woman should stop drinking at once if she thinks she could be pregnant.
FASD are life-long disorders. Most states have early intervention programs. Public school systems can also offer support to children with FASDs. State and local social services can help families with special education and social services. Studies have shown that getting help early is best. Children with FASDs also are helped by being in a loving, nurturing, stable home. Parents may also need respite care. This means that someone else takes over the care of the child for a short time. This gives the parents a break so they can take care of other family needs. Ask your child's healthcare provider about services in your area.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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